The mayoral transition: Police chief out

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Pittsburgh Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr. said yesterday he was told by a staff member of Mayor-elect Bob O'Connor that he will no longer head the 900-member department when Mr. O'Connor takes office Tuesday.

Chief McNeilly, who has headed the city Police Bureau since his appointment by Mayor Tom Murphy on April 2, 1996, said last night the phone conversation was "rather vague," but he took it to mean he wouldn't be chief when Mr. O'Connor takes over as mayor.

"All they said was they wanted to go in another direction. I asked what that meant, and they said they wanted to go in another direction. I asked that they send me a letter," Chief McNeilly said.

Chief McNeilly, who as early as May told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he didn't expect to be retained as chief, said he expects to serve until the swearing-in.

"It's not surprising. I plan to stay as chief as long as Mayor Murphy is mayor," he said, adding he had applied for the job under the O'Connor administration and would have accepted it had it been offered.

Chief McNeilly, who's 54 with 29 years on the force, has the requisite age of 50 and service time of 20 years to qualify for his Pittsburgh police pension and to move on to some other job.

In an era when major city police chiefs serve an average of three years, Chief McNeilly has said he feels fortunate to have had a tenure a few months shy of a decade. In the 10 years preceding his service, Pittsburgh had four police chiefs: William "Mugsy" Moore, Ralph Pampena, Mayer DeRoy and Earl Buford

As for his future, Chief McNeilly said he has looked at "various possibilities, some in town and some out of town, but because of personal obligations, I prefer to stay in Pittsburgh." He said he is looking at continuing a career in law enforcement or management.

"I'm open to various possibilities," he said.

Mr. O'Connor's spokesman, Dick Skrinjar, confirmed that Chief McNeilly was "talked to," but declined to comment directly on his status.

"The distinct possibility exists that there will be an acting chief" until a permanent replacement is found, Mr. Skrinjar said.

Mr. Skrinjar said one of the bureau's "second-in-commands" would run things until a new chief is named.

"[Chief McNeilly] has our best wishes in his future endeavors," Mr. Skrinjar said yesterday.

As the O'Connor camp prepares for a Police Bureau without Chief McNeilly, there was an indication of how changes might shake out for at least one of the force's command staff.

Cmdr. William Joyce of the South Side station was offered a job Nov. 2 as a field investigator for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, although it is not known if he will take the job.

If he does, Cmdr. Joyce will start Jan. 23 if he passes a background investigation. He will earn $64,000 a year. Pittsburgh police commanders make $78,000.

News of Cmdr. Joyce's hiring offer marks the first concrete indication that a member of the Police Bureau's upper echelons plans to leave the force under the O'Connor administration.

Cmdr. Joyce, a 26-year veteran, did not return a call seeking comment. He would work in the western office of the gaming board's Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement.

McKeesport District Judge Thomas Brletic has been hired to supervise a team of gaming board investigators in Western Pennsylvania. He is expected to start Jan. 9.

It was unclear whether Cmdr. Joyce would work for Judge Brletic or William F. Wells, the other supervisor hired for the region. Mr. Wells is a former director of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations Division in Pittsburgh.


Rich Lord and Jonathan Silver contributed to this report. Michael A. Fuoco can be reached at mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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